September 3, 2014 at 10:38

Evening Standard comment: We still need a new airport runway

Evening Standard comment: We still need a new airport runway

The Tories have adopted a more pragmatic approach on some infrastructure projects but continue to shy away from a decision on airport capacity

Evening Standard comment

It was hardly to be expected that Boris Johnson would take Sir Howard Davies’s rejection of his pet project for a hub airport in the Thames Estuary in good part. Duly the Mayor has fired off a series of broadsides at the decision  — “In one myopic stroke,” he says, “the Airports Commission has set the debate back by half a century.” Yet however attractive the logic of building a new hub airport, the “Boris Island” plan would have been grotesquely expensive, costing £60 billion in public money alone. It would have meant building on virgin territory, which would have required ambitious transport infrastructure to link the area with central London, and the equivalent of a small new town for workers at the hub. It would be environmentally hugely destructive. It was, as Sir Howard said, “reckless” and it has now, whatever the Mayor’s continued protestations, been buried.

So now we are back to what were always the most obvious options: Heathrow — a new or expanded runway — and Gatwick. Indeed some proposals suggest expansion at both airports with better links between them. Whatever option is chosen, it must be acted on quickly.

It is not a coincidence that Sir Howard’s commission is due to deliver its final report and recommendations after the election next year. This is a politically toxic issue which the Conservatives postponed for reasons of electoral expediency. The establishment of a commission was a way not to resolve the issue but to put off its resolution. It is not a rational way to make a choice which will affect the economy for decades to come.

The Tories have adopted a more pragmatic approach on some infrastructure projects but continue to shy away from a decision on airport capacity. It is precisely this kind of short-term procrastination that has resulted in London lagging behind its competitors in providing the  aviation links with developing markets which business needs. Such a decision ultimately comes down to politics — but if that is the case, why bother with a commission? Business lobby London First has called on ministers to have the will to commit to one option. They’re right.

London laundry

Alexander Lebedev, part-owner of this newspaper, last night addressed a Cambridge symposium on economic crime and identified an embarrassing reality: London is the world’s greatest laundry for the proceeds of organised crime and corruption. It is precisely the areas in which we have expertise — banks, law firms and accountants — that make us so useful to those with vast sums to channel away. And they are vast: one estimate of the global cost of corruption is $30 trillion over 15 years.

Mr Lebedev suggests establishing an international anti-corruption agency which would have the power to operate across borders and to seize assets. It is debatable whether there exists the political will in those countries where corruption is endemic to support such an agency — but it is rational to deal with a global blight with a single global operation rather than the police of individual states or institutions. Britain should be leading the way on this.

Football millions

For most people, £835 million seems like an awful lot to pay for footballers — but this is the record sum Premier League clubs spent this transfer window on players. For a chance of a place at the top of the leagues, clubs simply have to buy or borrow the best men — though it is not always the biggest spenders who do best. Football would be a much duller game if the prize always went to the biggest money.

Tags: The Evening Standard


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